As part of your agreement with a gallery, the final selling price will be made of the price you charge plus an extra sum, called a commission – an amount added on by the gallery to help pay for their costs, salaries, rent, publicity and other business costs.

This means the price you want to sell at – the amount of money you need to earn on a work to make a living and support your practice – is only a part of the final selling price passed on to a client or collector.  Your own price must to take this commission into account so that your final selling price remains at an appropriate level for your experience, medium, edition (where appropriate) and sales history.

The level of commission set on your work will be individual and should be negotiated with the gallery. Take time to see if that price is realistic for where you’re at in your career and make a choice about how to go forward.

There is no standard level of commission.  Galleries often add on anywhere between 33% and 100% to your price as their commission, but commission on work sold through boutique shops or specialist stores may reach as much as 250%, or more – making your final selling price two and a half times more than what you’re earning from the sale.  In all cases, commission should be negotiated with the organisation or company selling the work, and should be in your contract of exhibition or written records if you are represented by a commercial gallery.

See Rene Gimpel from Gimpel Fils gallery talking about the artist/gallery relationship, including commission.

Things to consider when negotiating a commission level:

  • Your accomplishments since you first priced the work: have you had many exhibitions, residencies, commissions?  And have you sold much at that price point?
  • Peer research: what are other people at your career level selling their work for?
  • The state of the economy: being realistic is an important part of selling.
  • Finally, and always most importantly: are you happy with this price?  Would you be comfortable telling people who have bought your work previously about the new price?

If you’re not comfortable, or able, to add a substantial commission on top of your prices, the gallery still needs to take it’s cut for it’s own costs.  That means that you may have to take a loss on your own part of the selling price – again, negotiate with the gallery and make sure you are getting the best deal possible or see if they are willing to share any loss in the short term.  Remember a small loss initially could equal a lot more work sold (particularly if you are making editions of work).  You could consider this an investment in your career and future selling potential.

If you sell work on your own and through a gallery, it is a common courtesy to keep your prices at the same price.  If a gallery is selling your work for £1000 and you are selling it for £500, the obvious thing for a collector to do is to try to buy from you directly, thus cutting out the gallery, diminishing their profits, and their ability to meet their running costs – and their ability and willingness to support you as an artist.  Mutual respect is the key to working with any organisation, and you could damage your reputation (and therefore ability to sell work or create new projects) if you do so.

© Medeia Cohan-Petrolino